Making Your Yard a Bee Haven

Where would we be without bees? Darn hungry for sure! Bees are necessary for growing a majority of our crops.  Without bees, we have no pollination for many plants. It is imperative we all protect and encourage bees in our yards.

I am going to get on my soapbox and ask everyone to please stop using pesticides. They are one of the worst things for our planet, for our bodies, and for our wildlife, including our birds, butterflies, and bees. We as a country need an entirely new education about what a “perfect yard” looks like. A perfect yard is not a sterile looking space with perfectly cut grass and not a weed in sight.  You can still have a beautiful yard with lots of natives and even a weed or two.  It’s all how you look at it.

My very favorite food source for bees is an herb called African Blue Basil.  Here in Florida it is a year round food source.  It is the only true perennial basil and never needs dead heading.  I have several planted on all sides of my yard.  Every day when I walk outside, each plant is covered with bees, happily buzzing around from flower to flower.

Many herbs are superb for bees, along with providing food for you.  In fact, I grow many different herbs just for the bees and the butterflies.  Start with growing tasty herbs like chives, borage, lavender, lemon balm, many different mints, rosemary, fennel, hyssop, marjoram, and sage.  The bees will appreciate it and so will your stomach.

Flowers attractive to bees are cosmos, echinacea, bee balm, phlox, goldenrod, nasturtiums, snapdragons, milkweed, marigolds, black-eyed Susan, and daisies. Sow these varieties at different times of the year for a buffet of nectar all year long.

We have a large white jasmine tree at our house that literally vibrates with bees during its flowering.  You can hear the buzzing of very happy bees as soon as you round the corner to the back of our house. The smell is out of this world!  If the wind is right, you can smell it all the way to the front of our house. It flowers several times a year, so it is an excellent specimen for bees.

As I mentioned earlier, weeds are a major source of nectar for bees and many are quite beautiful.  My two favorites are what’s commonly called Florida snow and beggar’s tick, or formally known as largeflower pusley and bidens alba. Florida snow is that weed you see in many yards as almost a ground cover – tiny white or pinkish lavender color flowers covering the grass, looking like snow. I personally think it is beautiful.  Every day as I walk out to get the mail, the small patch of grass I have by my mailbox is loaded with bees. It makes me so happy to see it! I also allow bidens alba, the white flower with yellow center, to grow wherever it pops up.  Again, most people see it as a weed, but I see it as a lovely source of nectar.  Retraining the eye and mind is the key to appreciating these so-called weeds.

Having a water source in your yard is desirable.  It can be as elaborate as a pond or something as simple as a dish of water, just be sure you include a place for them to land and sip water without drowning. A few rocks or pebbles added is perfect. I have several water sources in my yard.  I started off with just a clay saucer normally used under clay pots, filled with water and pebbles for them to alight on.  Now, I have a few other dishes with pretty glass stones for them to land on.  Just make sure you change the water every few days.

Not all bees live in hives. Some burrow in the ground or wood piles and brush or live in a bee hotel you can make. Try to leave select areas in your yard natural with twigs and leaf litter or hang a bee hotel on your fence.

If you are worried about bee stings, I have a terrific and easy remedy that I know works because I have used it on myself.  I read once that if you wad up a few pieces of grass and rub them over the bee sting, it takes away the pain, so one day I inadvertently place my hand next to a bee and it stung me.  I ran in the house, washed it, and then remembered the grass thing, which I had just read about. I quickly went outside, wadded up some freshly picked grass, started rubbing it on my sting, and guess what? The pain stopped almost immediately and that was the end of it. I couldn’t believe this actually worked, but it did.  Try it next time you get stung and you will be amazed and pain free.

This is just a start to saving our bees. Be a bee warrior and start to heal the earth one yard at a time.

 

A Midwesterner by birth, but a Floridian for the past almost 40 years, Debbi Benedict has been a longtime magazine columnist and an even longer edible landscaping enthusiast. Her definition of an edible landscape is, “Food for myself; the birds, bees, and butterflies; and most importantly, for my soul.” As a young girl, her love of the lore and accessibility of herbs started her on her gardening journey. Upon her move to Florida, her gardening world exploded as she was introduced to the magical tastes of tropical fruit trees and the value of native plants. Now her quarter acre yard, known as Benhaven Farm, flourishes with over 100 fruit trees, shrubs, and vines, and an unknown number of native flowering plants.

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